Craig Anderson and February 6-14, 1962 Inter-American Series

Manager Vern Benson congratulates Craig Anderson after a win.

Craig Anderson was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals, June 10, 1960, three days before he graduated from Lehigh, a private university in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Vern Benson, his manager at Double A Tulsa (1960) and Triple A Portland (1961), became a 1961 St. Louis Cardinals coach after Anderson joined St. Louis. Anderson finished the 1961 NL season with four wins, three losses, one save, a 3.26 ERA. Then he was chosen by the New York Mets, round eight, NL expansion draft, October 10, 1961, after Joe Christopher, round five; Félix Mantilla, round six; and Gil Hodges, round seven. Craig got married October 14, 1961 to Judy McCarty of Benton, Illinois. They flew to Puerto Rico on October 16, so Anderson could join the 1961-62 Santurce Crabbers.

Benson arranged for Anderson, Bob Gibson and Ed Bauta to pitch for Santurce, owned by Hiram Cuevas, his first season as full owner. The six-team league, 80-game schedule included 1961-62 expansion Arecibo Wolves. Anderson’s Santurce debut was a 10-4 complete game win over Mayagüez, October 21, 1962. He felt tired, after pitching 25 NL games in relief for St. Louis.

The Crabbers’ four-man rotation was league strikeout king Juan Pizarro (White Sox), runner-up in strikeouts-Gibson (Cardinals), Anderson (Mets) and Al Schroll (Twins). Rubén Gómez was limited to 10 relief appearances. Orlando Cepeda earned 1961-62 league MVP honors for Santurce with 19 homers, 53 RBIs and won the home run hitting contest prior to the league All-Star game hosted by Arecibo. Santurce was in first most of December 1961 and early January 1962, before finishing third (42-38), behind Mayagüez (45-35) and Caguas (43-37), but ahead of 42-39 Arecibo, winners of a tie-breaker over fifth-place San Juan, a game at Sixto Escobar Stadium attended by Craig/Judy.

San Juan Senators and Santurce shared Sixto Escobar Stadium. Santurce had the first base dugout; San Juan, the third base one. A fun moment was Anderson’s 3-1 complete game win over arch-rival Senators. Benson congratulated Anderson with a warm handshake; both were joined by rabid Santurce fans as they walked off the field. One of them, a child with a huge smile, hugged Anderson. The right-handed pitcher recalled the time a fight broke out in the Escobar stands in a San Juan-Santurce game. Player wives quickly made it to the respective dugouts during the scuffle.

Santurce advanced to the finals versus Mayagüez, on January 31, 1962, after besting Caguas in a seven-game semi-finals. Pizarro won a game seven 1-0 duel versus Luis Tiant.  Anderson did not appreciate January 31, 1962 headline in the San Juan Star ‘We’ll Win in 5,’ Claims, [Babel] Pérez, The Indian Chief. Anderson told me that headline served to motivate him/teammates. On January 31, 1962, he posted a 3-1 win before 4,429 fans at Escobar. His third-inning hit drove in Al Cruz Rodríguez. A homer by shortstop Leo Cárdenas provided an insurance run. Félix Juan Maldonado’s game-ending catch on Charlie Lau’s long fly ball still resonates with Anderson. “Félix made a game-saving catch with two on,” said Anderson. “I had trouble with Lau [hitting] all season.”  Santurce won the next three games to sweep the finals.

Sixto Escobar hosted a nine-game Inter-American Series, February 6-14, 1962, with four teams: Santurce, Mayagüez, Caracas Lions and Marlboro Smokers, representing Panama-Nicaragua. Cuba no longer had pro winter baseball; the Dominican Republic’s season ended December 3, 1961, due to political instability. Rosters were set at 21 players/eight imports, except for Marlboro’s 10 imports. Santurce reinforced itself with Cookie Rojas, Arecibo 2B; two San Juan players—3B Miguel de la Hoz and OF Tony González.

Santurce won eight of nine to win the series over Caracas (5-4), Mayagüez (4-5) and Marlboro (1-8). Anderson clinched Santurce’s title with a 2-0, seven-hit blanking of the Smokers, February 13, 1962, with Valmy Thomas catching. On February 8, he gave way to Orlando Peña in the eighth inning in a 1-1 tie with Mayagüez, won on a ninth inning de la Hoz two-run homer. Anderson relieved Bob Gibson in the ninth, February 10, to save Gibson’s 5-2 win over Caracas. Anderson (1-0, one save), Pizarro (1-0), Schroll (1-0), Gibson (2-0), Peña (2-0, two saves) and Roberto Barbosa (1-1) accounted for the Crabbers 8-1 record.

The Crabbers placed five players on the series 10-player All-Star team: 3B Miguel de la Hoz, CF Tony González, RF Orlando Cepeda, RHP Orlando Peña, LHP Juan Pizarro. Vern Benson was All-Star manager and Orlando Peña Series MVP. Other All-Stars: catcher Charlie Lau, Mayagüez; 1B Jim Frey, Caracas; 2B César Tovar, Caracas; SS Teodoro Obregón, Caracas; LF Al Pinkston, Marlboro. Tony González hit .400 (14/35); Lau (.394), Vic Davalillo (.370), Frey (.367), Pinkston (.364). Miguel de la Hoz (.361 BA, .750 SLG, four HR, 13 RBIs) was the best overall hitter.

Santurce was the only team from Puerto Rico to win the Inter-American Series, held 1961-to-1964. San Juan fell short, 1961, to Valencia (Venezuela) and 1964, to Cinco Estrellas (Nicaragua), despite Roberto Clemente in the line-up. Panama’s Chiriqui-Bocas Farmers won in 1963, even though Mayagüez reinforcement Juan Pizarro no-hit Valencia on February 8, 1963. The 1961-62 Crabbers became “Campeón de Puerto Rico y del Caribe”—Puerto Rico and Caribbean Champions. No other team in Caribbean/Inter-American Series history has won eight games. In February 1970, the host Magallanes Navigators finished 7-1 in the three-team, eight-game Caribbean Series in Caracas, Venezuela, followed by 4-4 Ponce Lions (Puerto Rico) and 1-7 Licey Tigers (Dominican Republic).

Hiram Cuevas hosted a big post-series party. “I made $1,000/month in Puerto Rico, but no extra money for the Inter-American Series,” said Anderson. “Hiram paid for the round trip airfare and let us go home to New York first class after Bob Gibson convinced Hiram to pay for our first-class tickets.” Anderson barely made it to St. Petersburg, Florida, for New York Mets February 19, 1962 first spring training practice of pitchers/catchers, supervised by Casey Stengel and Rogers Hornsby.

Craig/Judy lived in a Cervantes street apartment in Santurce’s Condado section. They rode a public bus to 1961-62 home games at Escobar Stadium and 1962-63 home games at new Hiram Bithorn Municipal Stadium. On some off-days, they took a taxi to Canóvanas to watch horse races at El Comandante Race Track in Carolina. Both enjoyed watching Angel Cordero Jr. win races. They traveled around the Island with José Luis Castillo, Lehigh class of 1960. Anderson is the only Santurce Crabbers imported hurler to pitch in regular and post-season games at Sixto Escobar AND Hiram Bithorn Stadiums (last month of 1962-63 season, plus semi-final series versus Caguas). In his words, “Escobar had more atmosphere [but] Bithorn had more seating and better parking.” Anderson pitched 139 regular season innings for Santurce, with a 7-10 won-loss record, 82 strikeouts, 3.04 ERA. But his 16 plus 1962 Inter-American Series innings, one run allowed, and his final series opener win over Mayagüez, helped 1961-62 Santurce become a “team for the ages.”

Anderson’s SABR bio by Lehigh class of 1962 alum John Burbridge, can be found at: https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/0cbd3fab. There you can read about his 1962-to-1964 pitching for the New York Mets, his 34-year career at Lehigh University as Athletic Administrator and varsity pitching coach. On March 7, 2019, Anderson was invited by a Lehigh University alumni group to throw out the first pitch prior to the New York Yankees-Philadelphia Phillies spring training game, Clearwater, Florida, about 100 miles south of his Dunnellon home.

Author’s note: Anderson/the author were both born in Washington, D.C., and earned Master’s degrees in Education at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, Anderson (1966), author (1987).

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